One of our favorite flying photogs, Frank Crebas of Bluelife Aviation, has awesome new photos to share from his latest missions with F-35As from the Royal Netherlands Air Force's (RNLAF) test unit located at Edwards Air Force Base in California. As the F-35 continues to evolve in an international manner, the jet is being put through ever more complex trials, but sometimes there is a bit of fuel left over to after the testing is done to snap some great pictures.
Frank took the time to share with us how he captured these sweet photos and to talk about a very special moment in the cockpit that he thought would never happen:
I am the most fortunate person in the world as I do most of the photo work for the 323 Test and Evaluation Squadron. This is a Netherlands Air Force unit that is co-responsible for the F-35 operational testing at Edwards AFB. The squadron owns and operates two F-35s based there.
In mid-January, I was invited to come over to the US (I live in the Netherlands) to do photo chase work during tests that I will not explain any further. During the flights that we did, we had some time to do some extra photo setups and this resulted in a large batch of new F-35 images of which I am quite pleased with. All of these shots where not pre-briefed, something I would absolutely do on normal photo flights, but not this time since I wasn’t sure how much time I would have for fancy photos and since I took off from Tucson, Arizona in an F-16 and the F-35s were flying out of Edwards Air Force Base in California.
The Netherlands Air Force has a detachment of 10 F-16s under the 148th Fighter Squadron/162nd Fighter Wing of the Arizona Air National Guard.
Once airborne, we met up with the F-35s in the airspace surrounding Edwards AFB.
It's important to tell that I was flown by and flown next to buddies that I've known for a long time and we had already done quite a bit of photography together in the past. My pilot was Joost “Niki’ Luijsterburg. ‘Niki' has more than 4,000 hours in the F-16 pilot with the highest numbers of any pilot in the Netherlands Air Force. Your readers might remember ‘Niki' from a B-52 image with an F-16 shadow that I had shared with you in the past. That was ‘Niki' and he is also the commander of The Netherlands detachment in Tucson.
The F-35 was flown by Lt Col. Ian ‘Gladys” Knight. ‘Gladys' is the commander of 323 TES. On the second day, the F-35 was flown by Maj Pascal “Smiley’ Smaal. ‘Smiley' is the DO for 323 TES.
A personal highlight for me was flying the Sidewinder low flying route, and more specifically, through Starwars Canyon. The boys found it cool to give me a glimpse ‘from the other side’ that I was used to (sitting and waiting in the canyon with my camera). Fortunately, we had plenty of fuel after our mission to fly the route.
Flying the Sidewinder is by far the coolest thing I have experienced in the cockpit so far. It's not even that a dream came true… It was so unreal and beyond my imagination that I never ever dreamt about flying through the canyon myself. It's a big check in the box for me! You have no idea how thankful I am for these opportunities.
I have made a short in-cockpit video of this once in a lifetime event:
A huge thanks to Frank for sharing the latest and greatest images from his flying photography adventures with the Royal Netherlands Air Force with us. It is an absolute must that you follow Frank on Instagram, you won't be disappointed. You can also check out his website and keep tabs on his latest images on his Facebook page.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com